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Basic puppy training and the search square

This week Roger Mugford kindly invited me to sit in on two of his renowned client counseling clinics and to talk about canine aggression in the EU as well as to hear about the dog problems in Romania. He has also asked me to teach him and his trainers tracking and nose work, which I would enjoy. I had my first opportunity to try the Halti for myself but as I am not use to using a lead, it took a little time to get use to using one again. I can confirm that its use does dramatically reduce the dog’s pulling power. In my early days, I trained with chokers and even today still have the old jerk reactions to a tight lead. This is why I do not use a lead for training. My trained reactions are still hard to eradicate. It is the same when I change from a car with gears to an automatic. I always have to move my left foot next to the seat so I am not tempted to push a non-existent pedal. This is how we precondition our dogs and ourselves and it works.

The Staffy is much improved and allowed off the lead but still wearing the muzzle. The dog is use to this now and the owners believe he has become aware of his vulnerability. If he sees another dog, he no longer attempts to charge in and attack. No further messing of the bedroom and the shivering has stopped. The dog no longer barks when people come to the door by the use of the Aboistop automatic collar and so rarely used now. I gave him a Kong as a gift from Roger and he loves chewing that. I will see if it is as indestructible as he says. This dog has a severe bit. In Romania, two Afghans like to chew the owner’s furniture. I hope if resilient enough they may like a Kong each instead.

The dominant bitch is just waiting for my Master plus collars power adjustment then the distance retraining can commence as it has a range of 200 metres. The good news is she still can go past the two aggressive dogs behind the fence without retaliating.

Before I review puppy training, I would like you to consider the usage of your dog’s name. When do you use the dog’s name? My name is Alan but is it a command or a question or what? We communicate with language and subtle tones. How many times does someone shout your name and quite correctly do you not reply with what. How often has this been followed by ‘ don't say what to me like that’. How often when you hear your name called do you run through some list of what have I forgotten to do. There is the name spoken in a way of where are you, did you do the washing, have you forgotten to do the washing, or why did you not do the washing. We are human and are use to filing in the missing words but dogs cannot. They do not think in words or numbers.

How often do you call your dog by just saying its name? How often do you call its name in anger as questioning the responsibility for the mess you have found? How often do you call its name to question which dog did this and when you get hold of him he is in deep trouble? How is a dog expected to know what you want? It can tell if you are happy or angry but the human subtleties and our use of shorthand for verbal commands is confusing. Humans have learned to understand such intricate language but it does not apply to your dog. The name is simply its label as to who it is. It is not a command so to speak it in various tones will only confuse your dog. Verbal commands must be clear and unmistakable. Having rover come, rover sit, rover down plus we use sit down (two commands) come here (here or is it heel) etc make all the commands too similar for a dog but hand signals or whistles or clicks do not change tones. I said before that all verbal commands if not obeyed become to sound the same tone as no because of the anger in our voice. Either use signals or learn to play act and think happy thoughts even if you are angry so the last come must sound just as happy as the first. It is not easy to do and why I stick to hand signals.

A further point is why say heel when we mean come. You will hear instructors say you need a command for each element of the exercise and heel is by your side. Dogs can hold up to 100 to 125 one word verbal commands to reactions but they can hold far more in body language and signals. Words confuse and so why use so many and attach additional tone meanings to each one. When I call my dog by using a signal for come he comes to me when I clap my hands and hold my arms out wide. I then put my hands in front of me to mean he sits in front and gives me a dumbbell whilst I stand at ease. Moving to attention and twisting my head slightly to the right, he gets up and goes round to sit at the left of me. If I only want the articles from a search, I just put out my open hands. When I pat my leg I am naturally saying to my dog come to the side of my leg so why say heel. Come means come to you and you make the other requirements with subtle changes with your body language. Come is the most important command so use it always but never say come to your dog in order to be chastised.

Have I written a book about basic training is a frequently asked question? There is not much to write about and I will go through this now as if I had a new puppy called Rogue. There is no need to be too precise just take advantage of each situation. At first when translating commands only give the command as the dog is carrying out the action of sit or down etc under its own choice otherwise you give an opportunity to fail.

As soon as your puppy comes into your home this is the time to start training your rules of sit, stand etc. How many people view preparation of the pup’s meals four times a day to stop it bloating see this as a chore. This is the perfect time to train as you have your dog’s total undivided attention.

I try to plan that at mealtime Rouge should be lying down between me and where I am about to prepare his meal. I alternate this so there is no way Rogue need bother going in front of me, as he does not know which way to go. He must learn to rely on me as the provider of food and only I know where the food is, not him. I get up loudly and Rouge will most likely get up as well. As he starts to move into a stand, I say stand. When stood I show him the universally accepted sign of the palm of my hand to indicate stay there and say stay but quickly move over to him to praise him plus a titbit. I then move off towards the food with the word come and pat my left leg.

Once there I make the meal and pretend to eat a little (major dominance sign) whilst watching to see if Rouge changes from standing to a sit. If he starts to sit, I say sit followed by loads of praise and a titbit. I finish preparing the food and lift the bowel. This will encourage him to stand so as he does say stand with out a titbit this time just praise. I pat my leg and say come to go to where I have left his distinctive food mat already outside. Keeping the bowel on my left side, Rouge will follow. If he moves in front, I change direction saying come assured he will follow. Never give any rewards for being in front of you whilst walking. I then go towards the mat and place the bowel down but pick it up again then immediately replace it with the command eat or any other pin command you wish. I will stay with Rouge talking calmly to him and rubbing his neck head and ears for a moment (major dominance signs) then I move away to wait. If he leaves his meal, I pick it up to take it away.

Rouge may now need to go to the toilet and so with the come command and a pat of my left leg take him to the area I have chosen as his spot. Any previous faeces from a wrong spot I have moved to this area to encourage him to use this place and if he starts to go, I say clean or wee followed by saying he is a good boy and show my pleasure with a big smile. When finished I give the come command again I take him home where he will probably now wish to lye down to rest from eating. Once he has found a spot he will start to circle as if checking for hard lumps. As he starts to go down, I say down and if necessary put the flat of my hand on the floor hiding a titbit, which he will get once, he is fully down. All members of the family should take turns in following this routine and use the same commands.

As I am translating commands for actions I do not give a command for Rouge to obey, I merely give the command repeatedly along with the actions Rouge is completing so he will learn what each word or hand command relates to each action. Only when I am certain he does know will, I test a command before he makes it to see if he will respond. We all learn by our mistakes so I will take the opportunity to create mistakes like moving my left leg them moving it back so Rogue moves out of the sit so I can say sit as my left leg returns to where it was. If I want Rouge to stay, I move off with my right leg. If I want Rouge to move off with me, I start to move with my left leg.

Now that has taken 500 words and it is simply translating the command for stand, come walking to heel, sit, that you dominate by eating first, eat, toiletry commands and finally the down. Doing this four times a day with the dogs undivided attention is an opportunity not to miss and you will see amazing results.

Working Trials Enthusiasts.

The search square as described by the Kennel club is as follows.

Elementary Search.

Depending on which Stake you have entered, an area of 13.761 m squared or 22.86m squared (15 or 25 square yards) will be marked out with 4 poles. You must send your dog into the area and order your dog to search the ground and retrieve a number of articles placed there before the start of the exercise. You will earn points for each article retrieved as well as points for the overall control and style. The articles will have been handled by a search steward and will be found by your dogs scenting ability.

The controls you need here are the ability to detect articles having recent scent on them and you can control your dog with close send aways and redirection. You need this in order make your dog cover the search area to have any chance of finding the articles. Articles can be a shotgun cartridge, a bit of cloth, a bit of wood and a bit of plastic. Marks are lost for chewed articles so the dog must learn to hold without chewing. Teaching the dog to just hold something that you have placed in its jaws and saying hold but say no if; it chews but give load of praise for not chewing. I never use titbits for a reward for articles as I feel the scent from these will only confuse the dog. Tracking is no help here either as though tracks are within the square they are more of a hindrance. Stewards sometimes have to walk around inside the search square to make it harder.

The easiest way to train is for you to know where the article is but take care not to let your dog know this otherwise it will become to rely on you when it is you who must rely on your dog. Place your dog in a sit, walk over to an area of ground with grass, and let your dog see the article and where you throw it. Forget about the poles or you may find them retrieved instead. Be aware where it is and return to your dog and walk toward the area but go in a few circles just so your dog loses sight of where the article landed. Hold your dog by the collar and gee, your dog up by asking questions like “where is it, search it out” etc then let your dog go. Do not use search and seek save seek for a person search. Your dog will now try to find it by sight but will soon come across it by scent and will remember this. Initially try to encourage when getting warm. Once found it is for you to then give loads of praise saying fetch and hold out your hands to retrieve the article. Do not rush but keep it easy but begin to apply a little redirection to move your dog around the area to help find the article so the dog learns you can be helpful. Not too much or you become a hindrance but you do begin to feel you are now working as a team. Under real conditions, you do not know where the articles are only the area to search.

It is up to you to allow your dog to use its scent capability first but for you to only help if and when necessary by moving your dog to areas where you think an article maybe. You can then help give your dog the chance of finding all the articles. Most Judges will evenly distribute the articles in the earlier stakes. When your dog retrieves articles like this then start with someone else being seen to throw the article and as you get to the area let the dog just walk past the person to recognise the scent but do not have the person put their hand to the dog. In reality and competitions, you are retrieving any articles that have any recent scent on them. The search steward will not come up to you to give your dog his scent.

Next week is behavioural updates, communicating with your dog and scent work theory and practice. If you have any questions or queries then, as before, please contact me. If you cannot obtain any special doggy items look at www.companyofanimals.co.uk and I will bring them over for you.

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